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Hugo Williams was born in 1942 and grew up in Sussex. He worked on the London Magazine from 1961 to 1970, since when he has earned his living as a journalist and travel writer. He has been TV critic on the New Statesman, theatre critic on the Sunday Correspondent and film critic for Harper's & Queen. He writes the 'Freelance' column in the Times Literary Supplement and lives in London.
Shortlisted for the T S Eliot Poetry Prize 2014. Hugo Williams is rightly cherished for his inimitable fusion of autobiography and irony, and a technical glide that allows his writing to 'slip back to the past as effortlessly as a dreamer' (The Times). I Knew the Bride is Williams' eleventh collection of poems, and his first since West End Final was shortlisted for both the T. S. Eliot and Forward prizes for poetry in 2009. This new volume bears - and lays bare - those qualities that have become so characteristic of his work: his unflinching survey of his childhood and adult life alike, alighting on moments of vivacity from his upbringing in a theatrical family in the 1940s and 50s (the title poem a touching tribute to his late sister) through to the romantic peaks and pains of his adult years. Straight-talking, self-deprecating and funny, these recklessly accountable inspections are set against a Williams-esk miscellany of day-to-day backdrops that readers have come to treasure: of record collections, kitchen sinks, shopping bicycles, hotels, bedrooms.
Hugo Williams is rightly cherished for his inimitable fusion of autobiography and irony, and a technical glide that allows his writing to 'slip back to the past as effortlessly as a dreamer' (The Times). I Knew the Bride is Williams' eleventh collection of poems, and his first since West End Final was shortlisted for both the T. S. Eliot and Forward prizes for poetry in 2009. This new volume bears - and lays bare - those qualities that have become so characteristic of his work: his unflinching survey of his childhood and adult life alike, alighting on moments of vivacity from his upbringing in a theatrical family in the 1940s and 50s (the title poem a touching tribute to his late sister) through to the romantic peaks and pains of his adult years. Straight-talking, self-deprecating and funny, these recklessly accountable inspections are set against a Williams-esk miscellany of day-to-day backdrops that readers have come to treasure: of record collections, kitchen sinks, shopping bicycles, hotels, bedrooms. But I Knew the Bride is no mere rehearsal of old lives lived; instead it takes the author and his readers into startling new terrain in a series of brave, painful and profoundly moving poems 'From the Dialysis Ward', in which the author records his own ongoing hospital treatment with a fearless vulnerability that makes this collection of poems a courageous and inspiring read.
In 1988 Hugo Williams began to pen his 'Freelance' column for the Times Literary Supplement: a window that allowed him to exhibit the full panoply of his gifts as travel writer, literary portraitist, working poet, and all-round chronicler of the curious existence of the contemporary writer. Freelancing is a collection of these TLS columns that finds Williams variously in Sarajevo, Central America, Jerusalem, Skyros, Portugal and Norwich. In the course of events he sees his Selected Poems published, his mother dies, his wife inherits a chateau and he crashes his motorbike. He reads and teaches, as most poets do, but also strolls through Paris dressed as Marlene Dietrich, encounters some of the great and good, and explores his personal history. His account of these adventures, reflections and discoveries is elegantly turned, frequently hilarious, and at times surprisingly poignant.
'A hilarious book of bad times, bedtimes and benders. It is a kind of cool parody of On the Road.' New Statesman No Particular Place to Go (first published in 1981) relates Hugo Williams's journey across the USA on a three-month poetry-reading tour wherein he also hoped to discover some of the America he had imagined for so long on the strength of its all-consuming popular culture. 'No Particular Place to Go isn't a book that you'd take on a visitor's itinerary of the States . . . But the journey it describes is a potent one . . . It offered a poet's eye on modern culture, a cool, sideways perspective on its consumers and an enviable traveller's voice - not just unafraid of meeting the locals but positively keen to jump in and grab whatever was on offer.' John Walsh, Independent
'I believe I shall be writing home about this trip for the rest of my life... years from now, still recollecting, like an old white hunter, shadowy images to an empty fireplace, far into the night...' All the Time in the World, a first work of prose by the poet Hugo Williams, was originally published in 1966 and commemorates Williams' effort at age 21 to 'travel the world': the Middle East, India, South-East Asia, Japan and Australia. Rich with striking and vivid perceptions of people and places and perilous forms of transport, the account also finds Williams acquiring precious life-experience, even as the setting moves from the self-evident 'poem' of India's landscape to barren, petrified Northern Australia. In Calcutta Williams looks up the great Satyajit Ray through the telephone book. In Thailand he meets a girl at a dance-hall, moves into her sunny flat, contemplates staying. But to England he will return, albeit by the most unexpectedly arduous leg of his amazing journey.
Hugo Williams's new collection summons the poet's past selves in order of appearance, as in an autobiography, showing in poems as clear as rock pools that the plain truth is only as plain as the props and make-up needed to stage it. Childhood and school time offer up the amateur theatricals of themselves, in poems of vertiginous retrospect; other poems itemize the professional selves of the poet's actor-father Hugh Williams (by now as familiar and frequently depicted as Cezanne's mountain), while the narrator - 'waiting to step into my father's shoes as myself' - teases out the paradoxes of identity and inheritance After this searching portraiture of the poet's parents, the chronology opens onto the broad secular thoroughfares of adulthood, including a limpid arrangement of pillow poems which tell the same erotic bedtime story in twelve different ways. Other poems strike out decisively along roads not taken: meticulous misremembering, sinister and fecklessly unfinished narratives about the parallel lives of desire, re-enacting lost futures and accommodating the irrepressible past as it keeps bouncing back onstage. In these fastidious and sardonic investigations of the fault-line between voice and projection, we admire once more the droll fearlessness, the art of candour as practised by Hugo Williams in this, his tenth collection of poems.
In gathering four decades of work, Hugo Williams's Collected Poems brings back into print a vast body of material long since unavailable - from his 1965 debut Symptoms of Loss to Self-Portrait with a Slide (1990) and including Writing Home (1985), described by Mick Imlah in the Independent on Sunday as 'a classic of creative autobiography'. The edition is brought up to date with his most recent work: Dock Leaves, a PBS Choice of 1994, and Billy's Rain, winner of the 1999 T. S. Eliot Award. 'This year's best collection of works by a single poet. Intimate, charming and often funny, sometimes wistful, slightly sceptical, full of insight, the poems are a monument to 40 years of talent.' Times 'In their seemingly artless way, these poems look with candour at feebleness, messy love affairs, squirming memories, and emerge triumphantly, often with a rueful grin.' Anthony Thwaite, Sunday Telegraph 'Not since Thom Gunn's Collected Poems has there been a Collected as startling and poignant as Hugo Williams's Collected Poems. Williams shows us, like no other contemporary poet, what is so strangely undramatic about our personal dramas.' Adam Phillips, Observer Books of the Year 'William's is a poet of such intimate charm, such grace and cunning, and such ordinary comical sadness, that he wins your affection and admiration.' Hermoine Lee, Guardian
The fifty poems in Billy's Rain chart the course of a love affair, now ended. Its complications, obsessions, evasions, secret joys and emotional pitfalls are explored with all the subtlety and irony of which Hugo Williams, among contemporary poets, is the acknowledged master. These are brilliant, wry and moving elegies for a love affair.